Roma Peoples Project Collaborates with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University Art Museum

Friday, June 7, 2024

Between September 24th, 2023 and January 7, 2024 the Metropolitan Museum of Art ran the popular and highly reviewed Manet/Degas exhibition. However, one of the Manet paintings that entered the Princeton University Art Museum’s collection in 1979 with the inherited title "Gypsy with a Cigarette" unintentionally perpetuated negative stereotypes.

The term “Gypsy” conjures negative images of beggars and pickpockets, or exoticised images such as fortune-tellers and dancers. Derivatives — like “gypped” or “gypsy cab” — refer to stealing and cheating. The Roma, commonly but mistakenly known as Gypsies, are one of the most stigmatized and dehumanized minorities globally. They continued to be criminalized, exoticised and dismissed as stereotypes. 
Cristiana Grigore, as the founder of the Roma Peoples Project at Columbia University—a program that examines how the Roma are represented in academia, cultural institutions, and society at large—contacted the curatorial team in charge of the Met exhibition. Having previously participated in an advisory group that contributed to getting several paintings' titles changed in the 2022-2023 Sargent and Spain exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, replacing the pejorative "Gypsy" with "Roma,” Ms. Grigore urged the Met to revise the painting’s label arguing that “Though this addendum may seem like a footnote of little relevance, names shape narratives, and narratives shape reality.” 
The Met's curatorial team responded promptly that they were open to changing the wall label. Likewise, the Princeton University Art Museum welcomed the dialogue around the title of this work from their collection and changed the painting’s name from “Gypsy with a Cigarette” to “Woman with a Cigarette.”As a result, for the last weeks of the exhibition, the Manet/Degas viewers were able to view  the painting with a new title and wall label. 
Changing a painting’s title and wall label during an ongoing exhibition is rare. The openness of the curators and museum’s representatives to address this in a short period of time, was deeply appreciated.
In the early months of 2024, the correspondence between the Roma Peoples Project and Met representatives led to a deeper dialogue about accurate and nuanced language to describe the newly renamed painting. Such successful collaborative efforts not only change a title or a few words describing a painting; By removing harmful language that has cemented negative stereotypes for centuries, it also begins to change how Roma are depicted in the arts. 
Woman with a Cigarette” continues to be on exhibit at the Met prominently displayed in the European Galleries until the summer of 2024.